August 16, 2019
The release on bail from jail of a prominent pro-democracy scholar in Hong Kong this week could be a test case for dwindling academic freedom in Hong Kong as university disciplinary hearings loom, academics have said.
Benny Tai, a law professor at Hong Kong University or HKU, who was the co-founder of Occupy Central – the pro-democracy movement, also widely known as the Umbrella Movement, that brought Hong Kong to a standstill in 2014 – was released from jail on Thursday 15 August with bail conditions that include not being able to travel outside Hong Kong.
Tai was sentenced to 16 months in April this year, one of nine pro-democracy activists from the 2014 movement to be jailed. He has been freed pending an appeal hearing which is scheduled for February 2020.
His release comes amid escalating protests in Hong Kong, which began 10 weeks ago over a proposed bill to extradite criminals to mainland China.
Many are closely watching how Tai’s case will be now handled by the administration at HKU.
Terence Halliday, research professor at the American Bar Foundation – an interdisciplinary institute of advanced studies in Chicago – and an honorary professor at Australian National University, said Tai’s release was a “small window of hope in an increasingly dark situation”.